This rapidly sketched and unfinished watercolour, shows a group of three Tunisian men in traditional dress, with vermillion chechias on their heads, smoking pipes and picnicking. Leaning against a heavy concrete column, they rest in the shade as the sun begins to set over the bare mountain peaks in the background. In the middle-ground, two men dressed in a blue and white, seem to be taking a break from work. The rapid strokes create a contrast between the stillness and languor of the composition and the rhythmic shadows and pencil contours which refine the outlines of each detail.
Tunisia, on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, was first inhabited by the Phoenicians before being developed into the empire of Carthage and absorbed into the Roman Empire. Under the dynasty of the Berber Hafsids (1207–1574) the country became more powerful and in later centuries its strategic importance became apparent to the French who made it a protectorate in 1833, shortly before this watercolour was painted.
William James Müller was born in Bristol, the son of a Prussian émigré, naturalist and curator. At 15 he was apprenticed to James Baker Pyne. He also sketched with a local curate. Müller travelled widely, visiting Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, Greece, France and Turkey. His work includes watercolours of the Bristol riots, views of the Acropolis and illustrations for the publication ‘Müller’s Sketches of the Age of Francis 1st'. He is best known for depicting the monuments of the Near East. He also made sketching trips along the Thames and to Somerset and Rowen, North Wales. In 1839 he settled in Bloomsbury and joined a group of artists called the Clipstone Street Academy. His health declined rapidly from 1844 and he died aged just 33.
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